I Am Suffering
Text: Ephesians 3:1-13
Paul starts this section with the phrase, ‘1 For this reason… (Eph 3:1a)’ What reasons is Paul thinking about here? Most likely it’s the preceding chapter, the fact that they have been saved by grace and been reconciled with one another and with God through Jesus’ death on the cross. But it could just as easily be everything he has been writing about, the fact that they are in Christ, that they are now saints in Christ, that they have received every spiritual blessing in Christ, for all the reasons that we have been looking at over the last 5 weeks. But for these reasons what? Some scholars actually think that this whole section is Paul getting distracted from his purpose. In verse 14 Paul seems to start again, ‘14 For this reason I kneel before the Father. (Eph 3:14)’ His purpose was to pray for the Christians in Ephesus, but he get’s distracted. What does he get distracted by? Well so far everything has been so positive – we are in Christ, we are saints, we are blessed, we are saved, we are reconciled. But Paul get’s distracted by the fact that while all this is true, he is in prison, he is suffering. This morning I want to take a look at a reality that we will all face at some point in our Christian journey, that while we are in Christ, while we are saints, while we are blessed, and saved and reconciled, we will also suffer. As Christians there are times when in answer to the question who we are, we will say ‘I am suffering!’
But before we look at the rest of our text this morning I just want to make it clear what Paul is and isn’t talking about. Paul isn’t talking about suffering caused by sin. Paul isn’t in prison because he robbed a bank, or cheated on his taxes, or got drunk and disorderly. Paul isn’t being disciplined by God. And he’s not necessarily suffering because of others sin. Many of us know what it’s like to be sinned against, to be hurt by others, but Paul isn’t dealing with that issue in our text. And he isn’t suffering because of sin in general, the fact that we live in a broken world. Rather Paul is suffering because of his faith. There are many reasons why we suffer, but this morning we’re going to look at suffering for our faith.
1) Suffering for the Gospel
Because that’s exactly where Paul starts, he calls himself a, ‘1 …prisoner of Christ Jesus… (Eph 3:1b)’ Actually Paul was most likely a prisoner of Nero, but Paul’s point is that it is because of his faith in Jesus Christ that he is in prison. Paul is suffering for the Gospel.
a) Suffering is normal
And it’s important to understand that suffering for the gospel is normal. Jesus said, ‘10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness… 11 …[or] when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Mt 5:10a,11)’ Because of our commitment to Jesus we will face suffering. Peter writes, ‘12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed… 16 …if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Pet 4:12-16)’ Paul actually told new believers that ‘22 …We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22b)’ To suffer for the Gospel is normal. Some people would prefer that wealth, health and prosperity is normal for Christians, but the Bible is clear, just as Jesus suffered for us, so we will also will suffering. Paul writes elsewhere that ‘29 …it has been granted to [us] on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him. (Phil 1:29)’ Suffering is part of the Christian life.
b) Suffering for our faith
It’s normal because what we believe is different from what the world believes. Paul told the Christians in Rome that ‘20 …It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain. (Acts 28:20b)’ It is because of Paul’s belief that Jesus is the Messiah that he was imprisoned. And the truth is that we will be persecuted for our faith as well. Our world doesn’t want to hear what we believe, that we are all sinners who deserve hell. The world doesn’t want to hear that we believe that sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, abortion and euthanasia are wrong, or that Jesus is the only way to be saved. Our Christian beliefs will get you labelled as intolerant and irrelevant. And if you share the gospel you can expect to be ridiculed and insulted and persecuted. If we actively follow Jesus Christ we can expect to face suffering. Paul is in prison because of the Gospel, because of his faith in Jesus Christ.
Application: Do you see suffering for the gospel as a privilege?
So if you are facing suffering for your faith, if people ridicule you for the choices that you make, or the things that you believe, I encourage you to not only to see it as normal, but to see it as a privilege. Our first point this morning is that: It is a privilege to suffer for the sake of the gospel.
2) Suffering for Other’s Good
But Paul goes on to say something very unusual. Paul refers to himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, ‘1 …for the sake of you Gentiles. (Eph 3:1c)’ Paul is suffering for the good of others. Paul is suffering because he wants Gentiles to understand the Gospel. Paul is suffering because he wants the Gentiles to understand, ‘6 …that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Eph 3:6)’ We looked at this last week. Paul wants Gentiles to know that even though they ‘12 …were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God... 19 …[now in Christ they are] fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. (Eph 2:12,19)’ And Paul is willing to go to prison so they can know the Gospel. Paul is willing to suffer so that they can be reconciled with God. Paul is willing to die so that they might receive eternal life. In fact, Paul even sees his suffering, his imprisonment as an opportunity to preach the Gospel. He doesn’t sit in prison whining about his circumstances, or getting bitter, rather he starts writing letters. He writes letters to the churches in Ephesus, and Philippi, and Thessalonica, and Colossi. And he writes letters to guys like Timothy and Titus and Philemon. And we’re told that for two whole years while he was under house arrest in Rome, ‘30 …Paul welcomed all who came to see him. 31 Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Act 28:30b-31)’ Paul used his suffering as an opportunity to share the gospel. He used his suffering for the good of others.
Application: Are you using your suffering to help others
So I want to ask you this morning: how can you use your suffering to help others? It’s amazing how often God uses people who have suffered to help others who are suffering find hope in Jesus Christ. If you are out of work for some reason you might finally have the time to help people in need. If you have been through serious illness, maybe you can help others who are going through something similar. If you have experienced a broken relationship maybe you can comfort people going through marriage difficulties. Don’t waste your suffering, use it to help others. Maybe your suffering might be the beginning of your ministry. Use your suffering for the good of others. Paul says, ‘4 [God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Cor 1:4)’ Use your suffering to help others.
3) Suffering for Our Growth
Thirdly, suffering can also be for our personal growth. Paul is not only suffering for the sake of the gospel, and he’s not only suffering for the sake of others, in the process he is also growing in his faith. In fact, Paul talks about what God is teaching him in the midst of his suffering in four ways.
a) Growth in God’s Grace
Firstly, he talks about his growth in God’s grace. In verse 7 he says, ‘7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace… (Eph 3:7a)’ Even in the midst of his suffering he is reminded of God’s grace to him. Maybe it is because of his suffering that he comes to a fresh understanding of God’s grace. Maybe for the first time he realized just how much it cost Jesus to pay the price for his sins. As they slapped the chains around his wrists maybe he remembered how they bound Jesus’ hands and led him away to die. Maybe as Paul suffered he came to understand just how amazing God’s grace really is, that the holy and righteous God would become a man and suffer for our sins and die on a cross. Even in prison Paul was amazed by the gift of God’s grace, that He would save a sinner like him.
b) Growth in God’s power
Secondly, Paul talks about his growth in God’s power. Paul became a servant of the gospel not because he was so clever or talented but, ‘7 …through the working of [God’s] power. (Eph 3:7b)’ As Paul shared the gospel, as he ministered to the Gentiles, as he faced opposition and persecution and suffering he became more and more aware that he was able to minister and to endure only by the power of God at work in his life. Earlier Paul prays that the Christians in Ephesus might know ‘19 …[God’s] incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph 1:19a)’ As followers of Jesus we experience God’s power to help us endure suffering and hardship. God gives us the strength to remain faithful, and to finish the race. In suffering our faith growths as we see God’s faithfulness towards us.
c) Growth in humility
And as Paul grows in his understanding of God’s grace and God’s power he also grows in humility. Paul doesn’t deserve God’s grace, he can’t do it without God’s power, and more and more he understands that he’s nothing and God is everything. He says, ‘8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles… (Eph 3:8a)’ Paul is saying, ‘I can’t believe that someone like me gets to preach to the Gentiles. I can’t believe that God would use someone like me.’ Paul, the Pharisee of Pharisees, the guy who persecuted the church, the guy who boasted in his Jewish pedigree, gets to preach to Gentiles. In fact, Paul’s suffering helped turn his attention away from himself and forced him to rely on God. Elsewhere he writes, ‘8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 …But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God… (2 Cor 1:8,9b)’ God uses suffering to humble us and help us rely not on ourselves but on God.
d) Growth in knowledge
Finally, Paul talks about growing in knowledge. His purpose, his reason for living, and his willingness to suffer, is all in order to, ‘8 …preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Eph 3:8b)’ Even in the midst of suffering Paul wanted people to grow in their knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Application: Are you growing through your suffering?
The point that I want to make in all this is that we need to change our attitude towards suffering. We need to ask ourselves what God wants to teach us in suffering, whatever forms it takes. We need to see suffering as an opportunity for growth: an opportunity to grow in our understanding of God’s grace; an opportunity to experience God’s power; an opportunity to grow in humility and dependence on God. We need to see suffering as an opportunity to grow in our knowledge of who God is and what he is doing in our lives. I want to encourage you this morning to grow through your suffering. Trust in God’s grace, rely on God’s power, humble yourself before God and learn what he wants to teach you. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, ‘3 …we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Rom 5:3-4)’ How are you growing through your suffering?
4) Suffering for God’s Glory
Finally, Paul talks about suffering for God’s glory. Paul starts by saying that ‘10 [God’s] intent was that now, through the church… (Eph 3:10a)’ Let me just stop there for a moment. According to Paul God’s intention is to use the church: The church that needs to be convinced that they are in Christ because they keep forgetting; the church that needs to be reminded that they are saints because they’re so sinful; the church that needs reminding that they are blessed because they are being persecuted; the church that needs reminding that they are saved even while they are suffering, and that they have been reconciled with one another because they still experience conflict. God’s going to use this sinful, struggling and suffering church.
a) Reveal God’s Wisdom
And he’s going to use the church to reveal his wisdom. Paul writes, ‘10 [God’s] intent was that now, through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known… (Eph 3:10a)’ Even in our suffering the many-coloured, multi-faceted wisdom of God will be made known. So often we don’t understand what God is doing, why he allows us to suffer, but Paul says, there is a reason, there is a purpose, God knows what he is doing, he is revealing his wisdom through this broken and persecuted group of people we call the church.
b) Reveal God’s Purposes
Secondly, God is going to use the church to reveal his purposes. Verse 11 says that God’s wisdom will be made known, ‘11 according to his eternal purpose... (Eph 13:11a)’ God’s purpose isn’t something he just whipped up in the last few minutes. God isn’t going, ‘Oops, I didn’t see that coming, I’ll have to come up with a new plan!’ No, God’s purpose is eternal, which means he developed it ‘4 …before the creation of the world… (Eph 1:4b)’ as Paul puts it in chapter 1. So what is God’s purpose?
i) Accomplished in Christ
Firstly, it is accomplished in Christ. Verse 11 continues, ‘11 …which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Eph 3:11b)’ God’s purpose was accomplished in Jesus’ death on the cross. That’s the whole point of the Bible. We call it creation – fall – and redemption, or redemptive history. God promised Eve that her seed, that’s Jesus, would crush Satan’s head. God promised to save humanity through Noah, which pointed to how God would save humanity through Jesus. God promised that through Abraham all nations would be blessed, and in Jesus they have been. God promised Moses that a prophet like him would teach God’s people, and that was fulfilled in Jesus. God promised David that his descendant, that’s Jesus, would reign forever. God promised Isaiah that his servant, that’s Jesus, would be pierced for our transgressions. God’s purposes are accomplished in Christ.
ii) Through faith in Christ
Secondly, God’s purposes are accomplished through faith in Christ. According to Paul God’s purposes aren’t accomplished just ‘12 In him [but also] through faith in him… (Eph 3:12a)’ We aren’t saved from our sin just because Jesus died, we have to trust in his death. We are saved by grace through faith. Our salvation is accomplished through faith in Jesus’ death.
iii) We are reconciled with God
Thirdly, God’s purpose is that we are reconciled with God. Verse 12 continues, ‘12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Eph 3:12b)’ We looked at this last week. In Christ and through faith in Christ we can not only approach God we can do so knowing that God will welcome us with open arms. In Christ our sin that stood like a wall between us and God has been removed, and now there is nothing that stands in the way of a relationship with God.
That’s God’s purpose, that’s God’s wisdom revealed, and God reveals it through us, through the Church. We get to tell the world that they can be reconciled with God through faith in Jesus and his death on the cross.
c) Revealed to Angels
But in the midst of all this Paul says a most unusual thing – that God’s wisdom and God’s purposes are revealed to angels. Paul says in verse 10 that ‘10 [God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. (Eph 3:10)’ We’re not just revealing God’s wisdom and purpose to the world, but also to heavenly beings. Apparently, God never revealed his whole plan to his angels, instead they get to see his wisdom revealed through the church. They understand his purposes by watching us. That’s an interesting thought isn’t it? The angels are sitting up there and going ‘Wow! Look at what God is doing!’
d) Do not be discouraged
And so Paul tells us not to be discouraged. Verse 13, ‘13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. (Eph 3:10-13)’ Our suffering isn’t some random pointless experience. Through our suffering God reveals his wisdom. Through our suffering God reveals his purposes. Our suffering is even teaching something to the angels. So don’t let suffering make you lose heart. Like Paul’s life and even his imprisonment and suffering are for the sake of the Gentiles in Ephesus, so our suffering brings glory to God as we trust in His wisdom and his purposes.
Application: Are you glorifying God in your suffering?
How are you glorifying God in your suffering? According to Paul you glorify God by not losing heart but trusting in his wisdom and his purposes. You glorify God by trusting in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. You glorify God by remembering that even though you experience trouble in this world, Jesus has overcome the world.
This morning I want you to know that it is normal to suffer for the gospel, for your faith in Jesus Christ. So don’t get discouraged instead remind yourself that God can use your suffering for the good of others, for your growth, and for his glory. Don’t waste what you’re going through instead use it to remind others of your hope in Jesus Christ, use it to remind yourself what Jesus suffered for you, and use it to point people to God’s wisdom and his purposes in Christ. It’s not only angels that are watching, the rest of the world is watching as well, and my prayer is that in the midst of suffering they will see that you still care for people, that you faith is growing, and that you are glorifying God. Amen.